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Almirola leads RPM front row at Charlotte

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson will start from third place, and will be joined on the second row by Championship points leader Greg Biffle.

"Our qualifying effort this year has been improving week in and week out," said Johnson. "I can't express enough how important that is on pit road and late in the race. It just opens up so many options for you on two versus four tyres.

"I'm very proud of the effort today," he added. "I wish we were a little faster but those RPM guys seem to have a little chunk of speed on the field all day long," he said, pointing out that Ambrose had earlier set the top time in practice as well. "I'm happy for those guys, it's a smaller team that is working hard and I know it's a big day for them. I wish it was us, but we will come back and learn a little more Saturday and go racing.”

The drivers get Friday off but have two full practice sessions on Saturday, before the race itself on Sunday evening with the green flag scheduled for shortly after 5.30pm local time (10.30pm BST).

Danica Patrick, having opted to forego any one-off return to open wheel racing at this year's Indianapolis 500 held earlier on the same day, will start from 40th position after making the grid based on car owner points.

That's one row ahead of Kurt Busch, who was the biggest casualty of qualifying after hitting the wall in turn 2 and then rebounding into a hard nose-first hit on the inside wall on his qualifying run, meaning he will need to race the back-up car for the weekend.

"Sorry, guys," radioed Busch, who like Danica had to rely on car owner points to make the starting grid. Trevor Bayne was the highest-placed driver in 11th to qualify on speed alone. Missing out on a Sunday shift were David Reutimann, JJ Yeley, Mike Bliss and Scott Riggs.

Full qualifying and Thursday practice times.




Related Pictures

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Kurt Busch after spinning the #51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet in qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday in Concord, N.C. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 U.S. Air Force Ford, poses after qualifying for the pole position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Thursday in Concord, N.C. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Johnson advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, lead the field to the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover sInternational Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, gets in his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, gets ready to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Chevrolet, gets ready to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for sixth position Friday, September 26, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon is in the Chase. Sunday will determine who advances to the next phase of the Chase, the Contender 12.  (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS qualified for fifth position Friday, September 26, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS finished in fifth place and Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser Designate A Driver Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, September 21, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Both Johnson and Harvick are in the Chase which continues in next week`s Challenger 16 race. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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